Lord of the Rings
Already a member of the USA Gymnastics Men’s Senior National Team, U-M student Christopher Cameron sets his sights on the 2012 Olympics in London.
LSA senior Christopher Cameron rides to a stop at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Hill Street in Ann Arbor, picks up his skateboard, and enters U-M’s Sports Coliseum. He’s soon in the gym practicing swing, strength, and hold elements on his favorite apparatus: the still rings. Cameron excels at gymnastics and especially at this event. It’s one his body is well suited for, with his extreme upper-body strength and lighter lower body.
Cameron was born with hemihypertrophy, a condition that left one of his legs smaller than the other. “I can’t run as fast,” he says, “but at the same time, it helps with rings and pommel horse. I’m making the best of it.”
His leg certainly hasn’t limited his athletic achievements. The five-foot-three gymnast has won many All-American and Big Ten honors, and last year as a junior, Cameron won the all-around competition at the 2010 NCAA men’s gymnastics championships, the first U-M competitor to win since 1963. He also helped the U-M men’s team win the program’s fourth national title.
Now, he wants an Olympic medal. He’s currently a member of the USA Gymnastics Men’s Senior National Team, an honor reserved for only 14 U.S. gymnasts at any given time. As a member of that team, Cameron represents the United States at international competitions—one of which he hopes will be the 2012 Olympic Games.
Right now, however, his focus is on the NCAA season. The team has a national title to defend, and they’re currently ranked No. 2 in the nation, right behind Stanford.
“I believe we stand a pretty good chance of winning the title again this year,” says Cameron, looking ahead to the championship this April. While he knows last year’s seniors were an important part of winning the national title, “it's still something we can do,” he says.
Competitions are what drive him to practice the required 20 hours a week, along with the extra responsibilities he undertakes as a member of the U.S. national team.
“I just like winning,” Cameron says. It’s something he’s experienced most of his life.
“At age seven, my parents found me bouncing on mattresses and couches,” he says. Both his parents trained in gymnastics as children, and they decided to enroll Cameron right away.
“I went in and two weeks later I made the competitive team,” Cameron says. That same year, he won his first meet. “It was all pretty natural right away.”
At age 12, Cameron had surgery on his left leg to remove a growth plate, a procedure to make sure that one leg wouldn’t be significantly longer than the other. His two legs are similar in length, but his right leg is between 10 and 15 pounds lighter. Cameron says it never kept him from pursuing athletics.
“I address it, but for the most part my training is the same as everyone else’s,” he says. “I push to get whatever I need stronger, stronger. It’s such a part of my life I don’t even think about it.”
It’s only on the vault that Cameron’s leg is a factor. “If you saw me run toward the vault you’d understand,” he says, referring to an awkward stride and slower pace. But at last year’s NCAA championships, he landed one of his best vaults ever to defeat the defending national champion in the all-around.
This spring, he’ll graduate from U-M with a bachelor’s in general studies, with a focus in psychology. He hopes by then he can also earn one more NCAA all-around national title.
After that, Cameron will focus all of his attention on the pursuit of an Olympic medal. He plans to live and train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, until the 2012 Games, held in London.
“The 2012 Olympics is a goal, and it’s achievable,” he says.
While motivating, the quest for an Olympic medal or even to win the next NCAA meet doesn’t define Chris Cameron. “You never want to lose your identity,” he says. “You want to be a person who does gymnastics. I’d say I’m to that point with the sport. I’m so committed to it that I’m just trying not to lose myself.”
So, for a break, he recently went rock climbing.